Based on the story "Afterthought" by Wendy K.
I also wish to thank Doreen, my beta reader for being my second set of eyes and for all her helpful suggestions for improving my story.
Chapter 1: The Present
It had been a quiet, relaxing evening at home and Scott Lancer had been enjoying his family's company and a glass of brandy when Teresa asked Murdoch for another “When Johnny Was A Baby” story.
Scott grimaced and inwardly sighed. He’d enjoyed hearing the stories at first and liked the opportunity to learn more about his little brother. Scott would never complain or spoil Murdoch's enjoyment of the telling or Johnny and Teresa's enjoyment of hearing them. However, the stories were beginning to repeat themselves and hearing them now was like a dull knife twisting in Scott's heart.
Scott was the firstborn Lancer son and if fate had been kind, he would have grown up with his father at Lancer. But fate was not kind; Scott's mother, Catherine, had died shortly after giving birth to him and Scott's maternal grandfather had spirited the newborn infant out of California and back to Boston. So, while Johnny's time with his father had been short (Maria had spirited Johnny away right before his second birthday,) Murdoch had been able to bond with his youngest for a short while but never had the same opportunity with Scott.
Scott waited the appropriate amount of time to make his escape without seeming too obvious about it. He stood up, stretched, and massaged his forehead, begging off with the excuse of a headache and fatigue. It really wasn't a lie; Scott was prone to headaches. The California sun was not kind to fair-haired, fair-skinned people and Scott had not been able to develop a tolerance yet. Work at Lancer was hard and physically punishing and though Scott did it all without complaining, he was always bone-tired in the evening. As he turned on his heel to escape to the solitude of his room, he was brought up short by something Murdoch said.
“Well Teresa, we've heard a lot of Baby Johnny stories. What do you say to me telling you a few tales about Scott's early childhood for a change? That is if you don't mind, Son?”
Scott whirled around to stare dumbly at his father in surprise. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed that both of his siblings had the same dumbstruck look on their faces.
“But...how? How could you share any stories of my childhood?” he questioned.
Murdoch answered, “I'll get to that soon, Scott. But first I owe you an apology. It never occurred to me that hearing all the stories of Johnny’s childhood would make you feel so left out. One of my deepest regrets is that I didn't know you at any stage of your development.” At that statement, Murdoch saw something shutter behind Scott's eyes and he knew his son was putting up his defenses.
Scott tried his best to keep his expression impassive, but he thought to himself, “Then why didn't you come for me? Or visit or correspond?” What he actually said, with a shrug was, “That's okay.”
His father cut him off. “No, Scott. You are too quick to excuse my actions. While I appreciate that, the fault is all mine and I don't want you to let me off the hook.”
Scott raised a questioning eyebrow and Murdoch went on. “It took me too long to realize how bad these stories were making you feel. I know you would never say anything for fear of hurting me or Johnny or even Teresa.”
Scott shrugged again, “How could you know?”
Murdoch said, “I swore when I bought you boys back to Lancer that I’d try to be the father you never had and Johnny knew all too briefly. I haven't had much experience as a father, but I am trying to develop a father's intuition. It began to dawn on me that you were having a lot of headaches lately. Had I not put two-and-two together, I would have called Doc Jenkins in to examine you. However, I began to notice a pattern behind your headaches.”
Scott's eyes widened in surprise and out of the corner of his eye, he saw guilt and regret on both of his sibling's faces.
Again, Scott asked, “But how could you know? How could you share any stories of my life?”
His son's question went straight to Murdoch's heart. “Well, Son,” he said, “The Pinkerton Agency came through for me again. Before I explain, though, I have a package here addressed to you.”
Murdoch leaned down and pulled a brown paper wrapped package from the inside of his right desk drawer and pushed it over towards Scott.
Taken aback, Scott stared down at the address on the package, ‘Master Scott Lancer, Lancer Hacienda, Morro Coyo, California.’ It was then that Scott realized that he had been addressed as ‘Master.’ He hadn't been referred to as ‘Master’ since he was a schoolboy of around sixteen or so. Scott noticed a name and a return address on the package: Mrs. Joshua Simpson of Providence, Rhode Island. He didn't recognize the name and he knew of no one who lived in Providence. Scott looked questioningly over at his father, and he could feel both Johnny and Teresa breathing down his neck.
“Go on, Boston! Open it up; we ain't getting' any younger here!” commanded the ever-curious Johnny. Scott gave him a wan smile and began to untie the string of the package with trembling fingers.
Chapter Two: The Package
As Scott began to open the package, he thought wryly to himself that if Johnny and Teresa were standing any closer, he'd be behind them.
After removing the brown-paper wrapping, he was left with a rectangular white box. Lifting off the lid he peered down to see a top layer of protective paper. After removing the first layer, he found four carved toys: two horses and two ponies.
“Looky here!” crowed Johnny, standing at Scott's left shoulder and snatching up the golden horse and pony. “It's Barranca!” Scott was left with the sorrel horse and pony which looked surprisingly like his own horse, Remmie.
“Father Christmas left me these, I think the Christmas I was five,” mused Scott.
Johnny examined his 'Barrancas' and turned to his brother. “Father Christmas? Is that like Santa Claus? And how would Santa know about the Lancer L?”
Scott looked down and noticed what Johnny was talking about: the Lancer ‘L’ brand on the flanks of all four horses. “I...I don't remember that...” Gazing over at his father, all he could choke out was...”What? How?”
Murdoch gave his son a gentle smile and said, “All in good time, Son. What else is in the package?”
After removing the next protective layer, Scott found himself staring down at several photographs. He was too stunned to move or speak.
Teresa pushed up even closer and peered over Scott's right shoulder. “It's a photograph of a baby! Oh, Scott...is that you? How sweet!”
It was, indeed, a photograph of infant Scott. He was a tiny baby and wore a long lace gown and beribboned cap. He lay upon a satin pillow, looking very serious and sober.
“Yes...yes, that's me. Grandfather had a professional photograph taken of me in my christening gown.”
Johnny peered down at the photograph in Scott's hand and crowed, “Hot dang, Boston...you were the dude even way back then! You look more like a baby gal in that get up though!”
Scott frowned at him, but Murdoch replied before he could address his brother. “John, that's the style of christening gowns that both baby boys and baby girls wear. In fact, you wore a similar gown when you were baptized. We need to look for it; it's probably stored up in the attic.” (Or Maria took it when she took you) thought Murdoch but left the accusation unsaid.
Scott started to lay his christening photograph to one side when his father held out his hand and asked, “Scott, may I see that?” Scott looked up in surprise, “Why...yes...of course” he murmured as he handed it over.
Murdoch gazed down at the photo of his firstborn as Scott watched him unobtrusively. A small smile appeared on Murdoch's face, along with a myriad of emotions: affection, wistfulness, and raw hunger. He gently rubbed his forefinger against the photograph of his baby's cheek, almost as if he were trying to feel the petal-soft infant skin of his child. Scott felt frozen in the moment.
After a long second, Scott collected himself and reached for the last photograph in the box. It was taken when he was around two-years-old, showing him all dressed up in a sailor suit and sitting atop a black and white paint pony.
Johnny exclaimed, “Well, look at that, Boston. You had an eye for good horseflesh even way back then!”
Scott gazed at the photo and said, “The photographer used to come around our neighborhood with a pony and a pony cart. The older children, the ones who could sit upright, would pose atop the pony. The infants would be propped up in the cart. I was so proud, sitting up on that pony. Grandfather bought me a pony of my own around the time I was three or four. He was a dapple gray and I named him Shadow.”
Teresa remarked, “Oh, Scott. It's so nice to see those. You were an adorable baby!”
Scott smiled and reddened slightly, handing the last photograph over to Murdoch, this time without having to be asked. His father accepted it and, looking down at the proud little toddler, smiled wistfully.
“So, who sent them?” queried Johnny. “Your Grandfather Garrett?”
“I highly doubt it, little brother. I don't think Grandfather would part with these.”
“Well, who then?” asked Teresa.
“I don't know,” answered Scott, truthfully. “The package came from a Mrs. Simpson of Providence, Rhode Island. I'm not familiar with the name and I don't know a single person who lives in Providence.”
Murdoch said, “Son, did you make sure that there was nothing left inside the box?”
“I thought so,” said Scott, but he dug through the remaining contents, a bottom layer of protective paper. Sure enough, there was a note tucked way down at the bottom. He picked it up, skimmed it over and said, “Why, it's from Mag! She was my Nanny. I can't remember a time in my life when she wasn't there before I went away to Boarding School. She was more of a mother to me than a nanny....” Scott broke off suddenly and cut his eyes over to his father.
Murdoch assured him, “Son, it's okay. I always worried about you; that you wouldn’t know a mother's love since your mother passed away the day after you were born. I'm just relieved Mag took on that role as well as being a nanny to you. Don't feel guilty about it; your mother would have wanted that for you.”
Everyone in the room had fallen silent; all that could be heard was the ticking of the grandfather clock.
Hoping to break the somber mood, Murdoch asked. “What does the note say? I mean if you wish to share it?”
Scott shrugged and began to read it aloud to his family.
I was so happy to hear from your father. The Pinkerton Agency found me and told me that your father was looking for me. You see, dear boy, I left your grandfather's employ because you’d begun Latin School at the age of thirteen and I was no longer required to take care of you. Shortly afterward, I acquired work as a nanny for a widower with three young children and moved to Providence. In due time, Mr. Nichols and I fell in love and married. That is why, I'm sure, you won’t recognize my last name or my address. I am now “Mother” to two sons and one daughter, all nearly grown.
I'm sending several photographs of you as a baby, along with some much loved toys of yours. (Please be sure to ask your father about those if he doesn't tell you.) Your grandfather gave me copies of the photographs years ago when I was your nanny. I cherished them, but now I feel that they belong to you. Your father wished to know if I could share any memories of you as a young boy. Of course, I have so many happy memories of the years we were together so I sent him a letter telling him everything.
I am so happy for you now that you are with your father, brother, and sister. It was always my deepest wish that you be reunited with your father. Unfortunately, it took much longer than any of us wished for or could predict, but you're home now with your true family and that's all I ever wanted for you.
I love you, I think of you often, and I wish you all the happiness you truly deserve.
Most Affectionately Yours,
Mrs. Mary Ann Gallagher
Scott had to blink his eyes several times and clear his throat before he could look up from his note. “Sir, did you....did you receive Mag's letter?”
Nodding, Murdoch opened the top drawer of his massive oaken desk and removed an envelope addressed to Mr. Murdoch Lancer, Lancer Hacienda, Morro Coyo, California, then gave him an affectionate smile and said, “Son, if I have your permission, may I share the contents of the letter now?”
Chapter Three: The Letter
Murdoch looked over at Scott who said nothing yet seemed to give tacit approval for his father to begin. Murdoch paused a long second and noticed his eldest giving him a questioning look. He knew that some of what was in the letter was going to be a shock to his son but still Murdoch accepted the facts must be told. Clearing his throat, he began to read aloud:
“January 5th, 1871
Dear Mr. Lancer:
I must admit I was surprised when the Pinkerton Agent found me. However, when he handed me your letter and I discovered that you and Scott were together, I was thrilled for you both. Scott was a delightful, charming and precocious child who I loved as a son.
Mr. Lancer, you may not remember me but I was with Scotty when you were introduced to him at his fifth birthday party. Although Mr. Garrett introduced you as Mr. Murdoch, I knew who you were. Of course, Scott was too young to realize it and his grandfather was not about to tell him...”
Murdoch sensed Scott staring at him, but kept his eyes focused upon the letter.
“...I was elated because I thought that you were in Boston to take Scott home with you. Of course I would have been saddened to part with the dear boy, but I knew that would be best for him. He needed to be raised by his father.
Sad to say, that did not happen. After Mr. Garrett closed the door to his office, I never saw you again. We both know Mr. Garrett would never deign to share with the Domestic Help his private affairs. I can only assume that he threatened you with some type of legal action. He is a man who knows what he wants and gets it.
Even though Scott did not know who you were, I must say you made quite an impression on him. You are a very tall man and to a small child like Scott, you were a giant. In fact, he spoke of you for several weeks afterward and kept asking me if you were the 'Giant' from the 'Jack And The Beanstalk' story I read to him.
When Scott grew older, he often asked me why you didn't get in touch with him. It broke my heart and I did not know what to tell him. I wondered the same myself. I thought if you only knew what a fine little boy and fine young man he was you would not stay away. I did what I could to make him feel loved, but I know that he wondered why you wouldn't possibly want him.
I left Mr. Garrett's employment when Scott turned thirteen and started Latin School in Grade Seven. You see, it is common for young men and women of means to attend boarding school in the East. So, needless to say, Master Scott was no longer in need of a nanny. I began to seek employment elsewhere and answered an ad from a Mr. Joshua Simpson, a widower of three young children who were in need of a nanny. It was with a heavy heart that I parted from Scott but he was growing older and embarking on a new life where he would make new friends and social connections.
I moved to Providence, Rhode Island, and eventually Mr. Simpson and I fell in love and were married. After some time, I lost track of Scott. I heard that he enlisted in the Union Army when he was underage and made a Lieutenant. But when I discovered he was a Prisoner of War, I thought my heart would break. There wasn't a day that went by when I didn't think of him, worry about him, and pray for him. And when I was told he’d finally been released from Libby, I went to the church and I lit a candle in thanksgiving for his safe return.
When I left Mr. Garrett's employ, I went up to the attic where my trunks were stored away. I packed my few belongings and had the trunks shipped ahead of me to Rhode Island. I have never told anyone until now that I mistakenly took a trunk that wasn't mine. When I opened it up, I discovered very many letters inside. Some were addressed to Scott from you, some were addressed to you from Scott, and none were opened. It seems that a lot of mail was 'lost' between California and Massachusetts in the years that Scott grew from an infant to a young man.
It was as I told you Mr. Lancer, Mr. Garrett was and is a man who knows what he wants and will stop at nothing to get it. I felt guilty at first because the trunk and the contents were not mine. However, they weren't Mr. Garrett's either. If he ever missed them, he did not ask me for them. I think he did not dare. So now it was apparent to me, if not to you or Scott, why there were no letters exchanged in all those years. I have kept the trunk and the letters all these years to be returned to the rightful owners. Please let me know what you wish me to do with them..”
Murdoch had already read the letter when it was received so he knew the sad history behind the lost years. Even so, the depths that Harlan Garrett had stooped to to keep father and son apart still had the power to shock. He looked over at Scott who had gone white around the mouth and dropped into a chair when his legs no longer had the strength to hold him up.
“...You came to get me when I turned five. You wanted to take me home to Lancer, but Grandfather thwarted you. I thought you didn't want me. I couldn't figure out why you never came, why you never wrote. All those years lost....” Scott looked as if he'd been gutshot and spoke in a whisper.
Not Johnny, however. Johnny raged at the top of his voice and was as angry as Murdoch had ever seen him. “Mierda! That God damned Harlan Garrett! Fuc....sorry, Murdoch...that miserable, damned son-of-a-bitch pendejo...how could he do that to you? How could he do that to Scott?”
Johnny stopped himself when he remembered that Teresa was in the room. “Um sorry, Teresa. I shouldn't have swore in front of you. And Scott, I'm sorry. I know he's your grandfather and all...”
Teresa looked over at Scott and then back to Johnny. “No, it's all right, Johnny. I know you're upset for Scott...so am I.”
Murdoch tried to calm his youngest son down for Scott's sake, but Scott seemed beyond caring what Johnny felt about his grandfather. He held up his hand and waved it towards his brother in a way that seemed to say, “Forget it; it's all right.”
Scott then jumped up and leaned over his father's desk. His face was flushed and his gray-blue eyes threw off sparks. He balled up his fist and banged it on top of the oaken desk.
“Let him speak, Murdoch. Turns out he's right. But why didn't you tell me you came for me when I was five? You had plenty of opportunities and yet you never said a word! Were you ever planning on telling me? Or were you hoping to sweep everything under the rug; you and Grandfather have both been very good at that. Tell me why; I have the right to know!”
Murdoch rubbed his eyes, wearily. “Scott, I wanted to tell you but what would that have accomplished? Right or wrong, you were raised by your grandfather; you loved him. I didn't want you to feel betrayed by him...”
“Betrayed by him?...betrayed by him! What about you? I felt betrayed by you; I hated you! I wondered what the hell was wrong with me because you never wanted me; never came around; never wrote! Wouldn't it have been better for me to hate him than you?”
Murdoch's heart broke from the tone of anguish in his firstborn's voice. He placed his hand over Scott's fist as he spoke. He felt Scott try to jerk his hand back, but Murdoch kept it pinned down. He knew he needed to find the right words for Scott and he hoped that the touch of his hand might help to calm his eldest.
“Son, I don't want you to hate anyone, especially your grandfather. I didn't raise you, but I know enough about you and your character to know that there is no hate in you! Don't hate your grandfather, don't give him that satisfaction. Treat him with cool and indifferent respect. Don't give him power over you. Hate is an acid that destroys the container from the inside out; do you think I want you eaten up with hate? The only silver lining to all of this is that Harlan can no longer control you with guilt or treachery. He can no longer trick you or blackmail you into leaving Lancer and going back to Boston!'
Scott looked less angry, but the anger had been replaced by sadness.
“I know you didn't want to drag me through the courts, but maybe you should have fought harder for me. I wish you had at least tried...”
“Scott, Son...maybe you're right but we have the benefit now of looking back and questioning decisions made. If we're going to wish the past to be different; maybe we should wish that you weren't born a month early, maybe we should wish that your mother had lived. There were so many events that led up to what happened. Do I have regrets? Oh yes, I have many. I wish that both you and Johnny had grown up by my side here at Lancer. But the truth of the matter is we are all together here now. No point wasting the happiness we could have now by letting regret rule the rest of our days.”
Scott slid his hand back out from under his father's and slowly backed up to drop down into the armchair once again. Murdoch chanced a quick glance and his heart went out to his son. All the fight had gone out of Scott and he seemed to be folding in on himself. Staring at nothing, Scott seemed to be lost in thought.
Teresa was completely silent; just staring down at her embroidery, two bright spots of color high on her cheeks. Johnny, for once, was silent. He looked at Scott, then at his father, then back at Scott. Murdoch could tell by the look on his youngest's face that Johnny wanted to help his older brother but had no idea what to say or do.
Everything in the room was silent except for the tick - tick - tick of the Grandfather Clock.
Then Johnny snapped his fingers and looked over to his father. "Hey, ain't ya supposed to be telling Scott and us about these?" he asked, waving one of the toy palominos in the air.
Murdoch thought to himself, "God bless you, Johnny!"
"Oh yes, Mag did want me to tell that story. Apparently the horses were in the trunk that she took mistakenly; the one that held all the unopened letters..."
Hurrying off the sensitive subject, Murdoch continued. Looking over at Scott, he began again.
"You see, Scott, I knew that I'd be arriving at your Grandfather's home on your birthday. Now how could I show up for your birthday with no present? I'm ashamed to say that I didn't know anything about you, although I had tried to find out something, anything. I knew that Cipriano's two sons, who were the same age as you and Johnny, were crazy about horses. I figured that children are pretty much the same all over the world."
"So, I assumed that you would probably be horse-crazy, too. I spent a lot of time, hand-carving and painting the horses and ponies. So, that explains the Lancer "L" you're now noticing on their flanks."
"When I laid eyes on you for those too short, but precious moments, I drank you in hungrily. Then when your grandfather closed the door to you, my first thought was to grab you up and run out of the house with you. Of course, that wasn't possible. Your grandfather and the law would have stopped me and you, no doubt, would have been scared to death since you didn't know who I was..."
"So when I was asked to leave the premises, I left the present on your grandfather's desk. It was supposed to be given to you on that day, but now I find out that "Father Christmas" brought those to you six days later. Ironically, I didn't bring you a Christmas present as I thought you and I would be on a ship bound for California on Christmas Day. I'd even made arrangements so that Santa could find you aboard the ship..."
Scott slowly raised his eyes to his father. "So, you brought those instead of Father Christmas? Well, of course, I never knew that. You should know, though, that I loved them..I'm surprised that there's any paint left on them for all the paces I put them through. I always wondered what happened to them. How they got into the trunk, I'll never know."
Murdoch was touched to hear that his gift to his son had been so well-received, so loved. He sat in silence, then began to read from the letter once again.
...Scott's nursery windows were on the west side of the house. Shortly after he could walk, he used to look out the window for hours on end. When I asked him what he was looking at, he would shrug and then turn away...he could never give voice to what he was seeking.
Then shortly after Scott turned three, he began to search all over the house for something. He would look under the beds, in the wardrobes, in drawers, in the pantry, almost everywhere in the house. I finally asked him what he was looking for and he looked at me like I'd grown another head. "I'm looking for my brother." Well, of course, that threw me.
When I told him that he didn't have a brother, he would simply frown at me and keep looking. His grandfather finally forbid him to talk about a non-existant little brother, but Scott felt free enough around me to keep looking.
One day, he had looked high and low for 'his brother,' when I told him, again, he didn't have a brother. He looked at me with a deep frown on his face and stamped his little foot in frustration. "I DO too have a little brother,!" he yelled, then broke down sobbing. Not knowing what to do for him, I picked him up, rocking and comforting him, until he fell asleep from exhaustion.
Then, shortly after Scotty turned five, he no longer searched for or mentioned his brother....
It was deathly quiet there in the Great Room. Everyone was looking at Scott and he was looking back at them. "I...I don't remember that." No one knew what to make of Mag's revelation.
Tick - tick- tick, there was no noise except for the Grandfather Clock.
Then Teresa, God bless Teresa, spoke up. "Murdoch, can we hear some of the stories that Mag has written about Scott?"
Murdoch looked over at Teresa and Johnny, who both looked at him eagerly. He then looked over at Scott, who looked a little more reticent, but curious all the same.
"Well, of course, Teresa dear. It's time we hear what Scott was like as a very small child." Picking up Mag's letter, he began continued on.
...Scott was baptized at the Trinity Episcopalian Church, Boston. He was sound asleep in the Reverend Smythe's arms when the Reverend began to dribble water on his forehead in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Scotty awoke immediately at the first dribble of holy water. He fixed the Revered with a glare and if it is possible for an infant to look indignant, then Scotty was a very indignant baby regarding these proceedings. With each dribble, he frowned even deeper.
Then he opened his little mouth. I steeled myself in anticipation of his wail. All of a sudden, the loudest burp came out of that little tiny baby! Well, it was deadly silent for a minute and then a congregant began to snicker which became quite contagious. Pretty soon everyone was laughing and Mr. Garrett looked like he was going to have an attack of apoplexy. Well, after Scott had made his presence known, he fell right back to sleep...
Teresa and Johnny began to snicker themselves.
Teresa giggled, "I suppose you were feeling indignant!"
Johnny laughed out loud, "Well Brother, at least your manners have improved. You now say 'excuse me!'" Murdoch couldn't help himself, he also began to laugh. Scott reddened slightly and shrugged his shoulders. All the same, there was a tiny smile on his face.
Murdoch continued on with another story.
...Scott did everything early, he talked early, he crawled early, and he walked early. Well, I really should say it was more like he went from crawling to full-out running. My job got really busy once he was ambulatory.
"Ambulatory?" asked Johnny. "What's that mean?"
"It just means that I was walking," replied Scott.
"Well, why didn't she just say that? Does everyone in Boston use them ten-dollar words?" scoffed Johnny.
"Can we just hear the story," asked Teresa, a bit impatiently.
Murdoch continuted reading aloud.
I remember early one morning, Mr. Kent was delivering the milk. While he and I stood in the front door as he was making out the receipt, somehow young Scotty slipped out the door, unseen. As we turned towards the street, we both saw a sight that frightened the both of us to death. There was Scotty, in his little nightshirt, running in and out under the delivery horse's legs and trying to climb up his tail. Luckily, Old Dobbin was as tame as they come. He looked at us both balefully as if to say, "What is this and will you please take it away?"
I don't know who reached Scotty first, but I picked him up and ran for the house. He wasn't hurt, in fact, the little imp was hanging over my shoulder, waving at Dobbin and saying, "Bye bye, howsie!"
I took him in the house, closed the door, and gave young Master Scott his first paddling. He really couldn't have felt it much, he was still in diapers. I think it was more the noise and the shock of Mag daring to lay a finger on the "Little Prince." He shot me a look of betrayal, threw back his little blonde head, and then let out a screech that practically lifted the rafters.
I was glad that I had brought him inside because if the neighbors had heard him, they might have thought I was committing infanticide. But Scott never did try running under a horse again...
Teresa was trying to hide a giggle behind her hands. Johnny burst out laughing and slapped the arm of the chair. "Hey, brother," he crowed. "Better not let the Old Ma..., I mean Murdoch paddle you. You ain't got any extra padding now on that bony ass....uh, I mean tail of yours!"
Scott, blushing a little, retorted. "You should worry more about that happening to you than to me!"
An unbidden picture rose to Murdoch's mind: both of his grown sons over his knee, especially Scott with his long legs, and nearly choked on his Tallisker's single malt scotch.
"Are you okay, Sir?" questioned Scott, with concern.
"I'm fine, Son...I'm fine," gasped Murdoch. "Just went down the wrong way!"
The Grandfather Clock chimed the half hour. "It's getting late, how about one more story and then we'll put the rest of the stories away for later. We don't want to tell them all tonight."
...Scott was so hard to put down at night. He was running from the time his feet hit the floor in the morning until he was tucked into bed at night. He would have ran until he dropped, and sometimes he did just that.
Scott was probably just turning three the winter Boston had a great blizzard. I had been taking him for sled rides up and down the block and over to the park which he loved. However, when the blizzard hit, Mr. Garrett was stuck at the office and it was Scotty and the Help left at home. Scotty looked out the window, saw all the snow, and wanted to go sledding. I had to tell him that it wasn't possible, but he wasn't happy about it.
By the way, Scotty was very good at escaping from his crib. We could never catch him at it, but it happened often. Mr. Garrett threatened to hog-tie him. His nursery and my room were adjoined. One night, very late, I was awoken from a sound sleep by a very loud crash coming from downstairs.
I sprang up out of my bed and rushed to the nursery. Scott was not in his crib. I than ran to the top of the stairs in a panic and what I saw below made my heart stop. Little Scotty was laying flat on his back, and his bare little legs were splayed up against the opposite wall. His little bottom was plastered up against the baseboard, and his nightshirt was flung up over his head.
I must have flown down those stairs without touching any of the steps. I knelt down by his little body, with my heart in my throat, and slowly pulled down his nightshirt. He looked up at me with sparkling big blue eyes, and a toothy grin. "Mag, I went swedding! It was fun, I wanna do it again!"
I snatched him up immediately, and hugged him tightly to me. I probably should have given him his second paddling then and there, but I was so relieved that he wasn't hurt.
It was then I discovered his sled, a sterling silver tray slightly the worse for wear, laying beside Scotty. I knew it was kept on the top shelf of the high sideboard in the Formal Dining Room. I also knew that Scotty wasn't tall enough to get it down by himself.
I carried him into the dining room and then I figured out how he had done it. Quite ingeniously, he had pulled out the drawers at random, and used them as stairs. By standing on his very tiptoes, he could just reach the tray.
Needless to say, the sideboard was locked from that day on. In addition, there was no more sledding inside or out for some time.
Johnny howled with laughter, "Geez, Brother. You were a Holy Terror, weren't you?"
Murdoch chuckled, "Kind of like someone else I know. You know, boys, I regret that the two of you didn't grow up together. However, if you had, I think there would have been a lot of trips out to the barn for one or both of you. And, I wouldn't be able to claim that all the gray hairs on my head were from every blade of Lancer grass. Oh no, every one of your antics would have been responsible for that!
Teresa was giggling, and Johnny was snorting. Scott was blushing a little and had a shy-half smile on his face.
A comfortable silence grew over the room. Murdoch glanced over at Scott, who sat relaxed in his chair, holding both "Remmies" in front of his eyes. He, no doubt, was unaware that he was gently putting them through his paces.
Murdoch then looked over at Johnny who, was of course, jumping both Barranca's over his knees.
The smile slipped away from Murdoch's face. He had never told his boys that one of the reasons for his coldness at their first meeting was pure shock. In the back of his mind, he half expected to see a little blonde-haired five-year-old boy with big gray-blue eyes and a slight lisp, walk into the room. He envisioned that this child would be leading a spunky, two-year-old toddler with raven curls and big blue eyes by the hand.
Ridiculous, he knew. But when the door opened and in stepped two adult men, one a Boston dandy and the other a known gunfighter, he was momentarily stunned.
Shaking himself out of his reverie, Murdoch announced, "There are many more stories of Scott that Mag was so generous to share. However, we don't want to hear all of them tonight. They should be savored like fine scotch, wouldn't you say?"
He threw a questioning glance at his eldest son, who gave a small nod of consent. Murdoch bestowed a loving smile upon him as he slipped the letter back into the envelope and into the top drawer of his desk.
Chapter 4: The Gift
Teresa decided to call it a night. She gave Johnny a kiss on the cheek then walked over to Murdoch and did the same. Then she turned to Scott and after repeating the action gave him a big sisterly hug.
“I really enjoyed this evening Scott. It was so nice to see the photographs and hear the stories from Mag. I feel like I know you better now.”
Scott looked up, smiled at her, and took her hand for a brief second. “Good night, Teresa...thanks.”
Murdoch glanced over at Scott who was unaware of his father's perusal. He thought to himself that the Scott he was seeing now was much different from the Scott who had begun the evening.
Scott was sitting up straight, with a relaxed half-smile on his face. He looked as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. The worry lines were gone from his forehead as well as the tired smudges under his eyes. Best of all, his blue eyes had a sparkle in them that Murdoch had never noticed before.
Scott and Johnny were so different. Johnny was like quicksilver: angry one moment, all smiles the next. Murdoch could always tell what Johnny was thinking.
Scott, however, kept his own counsel most of the time. He was pretty much even keel, while Johnny was up-and-down. Murdoch found Johnny easier to deal with than Scott.
Though there was one way Murdoch had learned to read his eldest; worked out how he felt. Scott's eyes were like a barometer. If they were gray, Scott was feeling stormy. If they were blue, Scott was feeling sunny. And although the light in the room was beginning to fade, Murdoch could see the blue of his son's eyes. Scott did not know that Murdoch had a way to read him and Murdoch would not tell him either, though he supposed that sometimes Scott was puzzled when his father looked deep into his eyes.
“Scott,” said Murdoch. “It's getting late, but how about you and I sit down together after dinner tomorrow and write a letter to Mag. We should thank her for the photographs and the memories she shared with all of us.
We also want those letters, but I don't want to risk them being 'lost' in the mail again. I would like to invite Mag to Lancer and she can bring them with her. Would you like that?”
“I would, Sir,” smiled Scott. “I want to read those letters and it would be wonderful to see her again after all these years!”
Murdoch smiled indulgently at his son and said, “I think that can be arranged.”
Murdoch then did something that surprised both his sons. He stepped out from behind his desk, extended a hand to Scott, and gave him a warm hug. Scott was rigid at first but then relaxed into his father’s hold.
But after a few moments, all of a sudden Murdoch spun him around by his shoulders and gave him three quick swats to his skinny backside. Both Scott and Johnny gasped.
“Sir...” stammered Scott. “Wha...what was that for?”
Murdoch answered with a glint in his eye, “The first one was for sledding down the stairs when you were a toddler.
The second was for even thinking that you didn't matter in this family or to this family. You are my son; your importance to the family and to Lancer cannot be measured. I love you the same as I love Johnny.
The third one is for not telling me or anyone else how you felt. We aren't mind-readers, Son. Please, please tell us if you are upset or hurt about something. How can we do anything about it if we don't know your true feelings?”
“I'll try...” stammered Scott.
“Try real hard, Son. Okay?” answered his father.
Looking over at the Grandfather clock, Murdoch said, “It's getting very late. You both know that....”
“..Morning comes early on a working ranch!” parroted his sons, in unison.
Murdoch made a mock-threatening gesture. “Do you want me to drag you two out to the barn? Get upstairs now and watch your mouths!” He couldn't disguise his true feelings however when he let out a chortle.
Scott and Johnny looked at each other and grinned.
“I'll race ya!” dared Scott.
“You'll lose!” retorted Johnny.
Both boys bounded up the stairs, jostling each other, and throwing mock punches. Murdoch thought the race to be a tie.
Laughing, both of his sons yelled down the stairs, “Good night, Murdoch!”
“Good night, boys,” answered their father.
Murdoch sat at his desk for a few minutes more. What a blessing those pictures and memories had been: to Scott, to his family, and to his father. He finally had gotten a small glimpse of the child he had never known. It warmed his heart, but it was very bittersweet. He had told Scott that the present should not be marred with regrets of the past. Much easier said than done. Murdoch fervently wished that he had personally known that bubbly, mischievous child of long ago.
Still, the package and the letter had gone a long way towards healing Scott; went a long way towards healing them all. But even better than those things was the gift of the present. The present was what they had now and a future together.
Inwardly smiling, as Murdoch left the Great Room he took the time to blow out all the lamps, leaving the room in total darkness. The Grandfather clock ticked, ticked, ticked away: keeping record of the moments spent together as a family at long last.
Murdoch had both his boys back and all was right with the world.